Ben Betker is a massive presence on the blueline here at Oilers Orientation Camp at Rexall Place. The 6-foot-6 defenceman has packed on even more muscle, saying he’s gained seven pounds this summer after playing at around 220 this season in Everett.
It was a good season for Betker, who made strides in his third WHL campaign. The hulking rearguard posted 31 points (6-25-31) in 64 games for the Silvertips, adding 63 penalty minutes.
For Betker to make the jump to the professional ranks in 2015-16 and become an impact player for the Bakersfield Condors of the American Hockey League, he says he wants to work on a few things. Betker wants to continue to add muscle and strength, while getting quicker.
One other area of his game Betker wants to address is being mean. More importantly, being mean consistently. He wants to play a hard game all the time.
“I have that. I think I need to do it more consistently,” said Betker. “I think that’s the thing, especially being physical. You look at guys like (Nashville Predators Captain) Shea Weber or (Hall of Famer) Chris Pronger back in the day, he played here. The tenacity that they play with was always in their game every night. Something like that, consistently, is what I need to bring and that will really help me out in the long run.”
RAW: McDavid | Draisaitl | Nurse | Kyle Platzer | Greg Chase | Rick Carriere
Coming off a successful 2014-15 season in which he scored 34 goals and 81 points in 68 games with the OHL's Owen Sound Attack, Kyle Platzer looks to make even greater strides heading into what is expected to be his first full professional campaign in 2015-16.
“It was a good step in the right direction and definitely encouraging going forward. Hopefully I’ll turn pro this season and just build off last season,” he said.
After his OHL season ended, he moved on to the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons where he contributed with two goals in four regular season games to end the season and suited up for three more contests in the postseason.
“It was awesome. You always wonder what it’s like up there and just want to show your best. It was good to pot a few and get some confidence up there. Leading into this summer, it was awesome for me.”
Mark Messier is well known in Edmonton as one of the great Oilers of the 80s. Paul played for the Edmonton Mets in the AJHL, before a long career that ended overseas in Europe. Murdoch had a long career with the New York Rangers back in the late 20s and 30s. Esposito’s grandfather, who is in Edmonton observing Orientation Camp, played for the Oil Kings from 1954-1957 and went on to have a head coaching career in both the AJHL and AHL.
Having family like that goes a long way to helping you in your career.
“They’ve been unbelievable,” said Esposito. “I wouldn’t be here without them. From my dad’s side, even though he wasn’t a hockey player, he was a Division I soccer player and an athlete in his own right and also his work ethic. Then obviously on my mom’s side with my uncle (Mark). Even to this day he lives close to me at home. He’s been unbelievable with giving me pointers. If I ever have questions, I see him all the time so we have a good running dialogue about stuff like that and my grandpa as well, he coached me all the way up. He’s here actually this week. It’s good to have him around and it’s been great. Without them, I wouldn’t be here.”
Esposito has spent the past two years at Harvard University. Read more about Esposito and his impact on one Oilers prospect HERE.
Leon Draisaitl is in the same spot he was last summer. He is working hard to earn an NHL job out of camp. The big Oilers centre is another year stronger, wiser and more experienced but the club has also gotten better, adding to their depth.
“I’m well aware of that and I think that just makes it more fun,” said Draisaitl. “There is going to be a big competition for spots. I want to make a case for myself and I want to be on this team. Obviously, I’m going to battle hard for a spot.”
Drafting Connor McDavid first overall, adding a centre via free agency (Mark Letestu) and the emergence of Anton Lander have left seemingly few spots up for grabs. Would the Oilers be better suited to start Draisaitl out on the wing this season?
If they wish to do so, Draisaitl says that’s OK.
“I’d be totally fine with that,” he said. “I’ve played the wing before… I know how to play the wing. For me, it wouldn’t really matter. As long as I’m on the team, for me, everything works I guess.”
Having experience playing both up the middle and on the wing, Draisaitl can make that transition if need be.
“It’s easier to switch from centre to wing than from wing to centre,” said Draisaitl. “I think you have a little bit more responsibility as a centreman. A lot of times you’re the guy working down low with the defenceman and that obviously takes work. That, you kind of don’t have as a winger. I think, obviously, you have to work hard as a winger as well, but I think it’s a little different role. Like I said, I know how to play both sides and I think that’s a good thing to have.”
If Draisaitl earns a spot out of camp and it just so happens to be on the wing, it gives Edmonton another offensive weapon up front. Draisaitl had 53 points (19-34-53) in just 32 games for the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL last season. He had 28 points (10-18-28) in 19 playoff games.
Oilers prospect Darnell Nurse talked about the large turnout -- close to 2,500 -- at Rexall Place to watch the third day at Orientation Camp.
“It was awesome. It was great to have the support of the fans out there. It shows how passionate of a city this place is for hockey and how hungry they are for the season coming up,” Nurse began.
“It’s exciting for everyone to go out there and see the type of support we get.”
Nurse was also asked about the contract of Connor McDavid, who signed his three-year entry-level deal earlier today.
“It’s a really special moment. It’s cool to be rewarded for all the work you’ve done,” said Nurse. “It’s something he should be very proud of and definitely something he earned.”
With all the moves the Oilers have made since Peter Chiarelli took over as President of Hockey Operations and General Manager, there is a sense of excitement around Edmonton. The Oilers not only drafted the highly talented Connor McDavid first overall, but they executed a handful of trades that brought them two defencemen, a potential starting goaltender and a depth winger. In free agency, the Oilers snagged a top-four defenceman and another depth forward.
Combine those personnel moves with the hiring of Todd McLellan and his coaching staff, and the new-look Oilers offer a lot to be excited about. McLellan himself sees that.
“A lot of exciting things are happening in our organization,” said McLellan. “I’m back in Edmonton now for the first time in a little while and there’s a sense of excitement outside the rink and with fans that I run into and that’s exciting and encouraging. We added pieces at the draft. I thought Peter and his staff did a fantastic job of preparing for that and executing. Then obviously, yesterday (we added) a couple more pieces. Transforming the roster, trying to fill holes, trying to improve areas.”
While McLellan and his staff are excited about the changes, it’s the product on the ice that matters most.
“I’ve also reminded a lot of people, including our coaching staff, that it’s what happens between the boards for 60 minutes that really counts,” said McLellan. “We can put names on the board, we can fool around on paper and talk about a lot of things but we have to blend all this together. We have to make a decision on how we want to play and we have to commit to that, not only through some good days but through the bad days. We’ll still have those. We’ll try to work towards an identity and build on that day in and day out. The team looks different than it did a few weeks ago, but there’s work to do.”
While the coaching staff and the players maybe need to temper their enthusiasm a bit and just focus on the task at hand, McLellan says the fans shouldn’t have to.
“We have keep it real,” said McLellan. “I hope that the people in Edmonton and in the hockey world keep that excitement up. It forces us to execute and keeps us on our toes. That’s a really good thing. We also have to do this methodically. We have to incorporate how we want to play. We can’t go from A to M and skip all the other letters in the alphabet. The would be dangerous. We have to do it methodically and we have to develop an identity, we’ve got to get our foundation in place and grow as a team now. We’ve got 1/3, 1/4 turnover. There are a lot of fresh faces, new ideas, a belief system that needs to be built with the existing players that are returning and the new ones. Methodical.”
Caleb Jones couldn't help but be awestruck when he walked into the Oilers dressing room for the first time yesterday.
“I was walking into the locker room for the first time, getting my equipment fitted and I sat down in the stall and I looked around, thinking ‘it’s the Edmonton Oilers’ it’s one of the greatest organizations ever,” Jones exclaimed, adding that his experience so far at camp has been nothing but positive.
“It’s been great so far. It’s been an exciting Development Camp. Two days after the draft was a quick turnaround for me but I’m excited to be here and I’m learning a lot already from the organization.”
The brother of Nashville Predators defenceman Seth Jones added that being selected in the same draft as Connor McDavid is something he'll always hold onto.
“You’ve just got to show up and work hard every day,” Jones continued. “He’s a great player and he’s going to play in the league for years to come. It’s pretty cool being drafted (with him). You’ll always be remembered as being part of the Connor McDavid Draft Class with the Edmonton Oilers.”
Jones also added that he was looking forward to building camaraderie with McDavid and his other future NHL teammates.
“It’s a team. You really become a team here and it builds up to when you get to the big leagues. I see a lot of guys like Nurse who have been here for awhile and they’re good friends. I think over time you start to be around each other every day like that, you start to become friends and it gets a lot easier.”
Ethan Bear, selected in the fifth round, 124th overall, by the Oilers at the NHL Draft this past weekend in Florida, had some advice from Craig MacTavish shortly after accepting his jersey at the table.
“MacTavish said ‘one step at a time, just keep working’,” said Bear. “It’s important to work on things you can when you’re on the ice and when you’re off the ice get stronger.”
Hard work is a mantra for Bear, a right-shooting defenceman who had 38 points in 69 games this past season with the WHL's Seattle Thunderbirds.
“Just work hard, when you’re on the ice, compete,” he said. “Try and earn your spot and keep working hard is the main thing. You might have to get out of your comfort zone and do things different on the ice but mainly for now it’s only Development Camp so I’m going to have some fun and make myself better.”
Hailing from Ochapowace, Saskatchewan -- near Regina -- Bear said that the reaction back at home was very positive.
“I think they’re pretty happy over there and so am I. A lot of my family congratulated me.”
Orientation Camp: Connor McDavid | Darnell Nurse | Leon Draisaitl
Stories & Analysis: The Panel on Free Agency & McDavid | In Focus: Free Agency Day
More Free Agency: Chiarelli | Mark Letestu Interview & Highlights | Letestu Interview on 630 CHED
For the first time, first-overall pick Connor McDavid stepped onto the ice at Rexall Place.
"Today was a lot of fun," said McDavid. "The fitness testing wasn't a whole lot of fun but really cool to throw on the Oilers gear, the gear that I want to play the rest of my life wearing. It was pretty cool to put it on. With all the history, it was a lot of fun."
It was a power skating lesson, which McDavid thought was very good for both himself and the other prospects.
"That circle stuff, one foot, a lot of edges. I thought it was really good," he said. "Skating is so important. You've always got to be working on it so it was good we got a chance to do that."
The centre was asked about how it feels to be in Edmonton and now be part of an NHL organization.
"It's going to take a little while for it to sink in. It still feels surreal. It's hard to picture being part of an NHL organization, never mind the Edmonton Oilers with such a storied background.
"I visited a couple weeks ago and I've only been here a little bit now. It's a great city. It seems really nice. I'm really enjoying it."
At the end of Wednesday's practice, Darnell Nurse selected Connor McDavid as the practice's first star. The 'first star' is a tradition which has carried on from Oklahoma City where the player previously selected first star chooses someone else at the end of practice with all players around the centre ice circle. The chosen one then has to take a lap around the ice.
With no prior first star, with Nurse's OKC experience, Fleming selected him as the one to pass the torch. Nurse, of course, selected McDavid.
"I'm not picking on him, I just let him do a lap," Nurse chuckled. "It was fun out there. It was something we did in OKC when Gerry (Fleming) was on the ice. He asked 'who will do first star?' and I said 'I'll do it for you' and we had a little fun."
McDavid said that he saw the selection coming from a mile away.
"Me and Nurse, we're good buddies. I saw it coming when they said they were doing that. It was a lot of fun," McDavid stated.
Nurse said he's excited to have McDavid as his teammate at the NHL level.
"Thank God I don't have to play against him anymore," he laughed. "He's a special player. Any time you get the opportunity to add a guy like that to your team, it makes the organization a lot better," Nurse noted. "We played against each other and battled against each other for a few years now and had the opportunity to play together at World Juniors. Not only is he a great player, he's a great guy. It's always good to joke around with him and have some fun."
The big defenceman said that the atmosphere around the team has been very positive in camp so far.
"It's really exciting. You can tell everyone is upbeat, looking forward to September and October. I'm looking forward to do what I can to make the team."
As for his own personal goals for next season? Nurse simply wants to make the team.
"My goal is definitely to come in here and earn a job. I just have to go out there and work as hard as I can. I can only control what I do."